Northern Ireland

Seamus McLaughlin jailed for having mortar bombs

A man caught driving a van loaded with four primed mortar bombs has been given a 12-year prison sentence.

Seamus McLaughlin, 37, of Eastway Gardens, Londonderry, admitted possession of explosives with intent to endanger life, and possessing articles for terrorist purposes.

Both offences were committed on 3 March 2013.

The judge said there had been "high potential for injuries or death" had the mortar bombs been fired.

The prosecution said the van was seen by police driving along the Letterkenny Road in Derry before it was stopped by officers. McLaughlin, the van's driver, got out of the vehicle with his hands raised.

The court heard he was wearing a dark jacket zipped up to his face with the hood up, a baseball cap over a woollen hat, gloves and plastic 'overshoes'.

Timing device

When he was asked by officers at the scene whether anything was going to explode in the vehicle, he did not respond.

The prosecutor said that when the van was searched, several items were located.

In the rear of the vehicle, police found an improvised mortar system that included four launch tubes, four propelling units and four mortar bombs. These contained a quantity of explosives, were secured in a frame and were ready to be used.

A timing device was also found in the vehicle, as was a further device designed to destroy the van. In addition, a hole had been cut in the roof of the van to enable the mortars to be fired.

The prosecutor also said that while the mortar device may have had a "crude element", it was "nonetheless functional" and ready to be deployed.

He also said it was the Crown's view that the mortar bombs would be detonated "somewhere in the city of Derry" with the intended target likely to be a police station.

When McLaughlin was arrested and questioned, he made 'no comment' responses to questions put to him.

'Not sophisticated'

However, he subsequently pleaded guilty to the two terrorist offences - an action his barrister said displayed an "acceptance of culpability".

The defence barrister told the court McLaughlin had a limited criminal record that did not contain any offences linked to "serious violence, paramilitaries or alleged paramilitary activity."

He also told the court that McLaughlin had "put his time on remand to good use", was completing educational courses and intended to "focus on his family".

He added that after serving his sentence, McLaughlin "will not and does not present as any risk whatsoever in the future to the public in the north of Ireland."

Before sentencing McLaughlin, the judge said that while he accepted the device was "not particularly sophisticated", it was clear there had been a degree of planning, that an intended target had been identified and that the weapon was in a position to be deployed.

"Given the nature of this particular offence and given the fact you would have been involved to some extend in the planning - and it was your responsibility to drive the weapon to its final firing point - you do satisfy the criteria for dangerousness," the judge told him.

McLaughlin will serve 12 years in custody and five years on licence.

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